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Safwan Javed

Interview by Sean Mitchell // June 02 2007
Safwan Javed

It's important for one's sanity not to get too caught up in the climate of the industry.

I can’t quite put into words the feeling I got when I first visited Saskatoon. I was playing at a bar that I am sure is now long gone called Bar K. It may have been because it was summer or because it was our first day off in a long time, but to me Saskatoon was alive with culture, music and color. The trees seemed to be a ridiculously deep shade of green, and the small shops along Broadway were alive with people who appeared to be genuinely happy to be right where they were at that moment in time. We watched some speed boat races along the South Saskatchewan river and made our way up to the main drag and spent some quality time checking out HEL music store as well as the finer pubs in the area.

Of course as the sun faded and the night life heated up, we headed to Buds On Broadway and ended our night watching some of the best musicians I have seen to this day. Now your probably thinking; “ahhh the irony...it was Wide Mouth Mason right?” That would be almost too poetic, being that they are from Toontown. Unfortunately I can’t claim a pre-fame Wide Mouth Mason sighting on that particular visit. Although I do recall seeing WMM before they achieved commercial success, but that is beside the point. Wether Safwan himself shares in my opinion on the city I remember that summer, is a matter of perception. However if you subscribe to the belief that we are a product of our environment and you have been to Saskatoon in the summer, it is not hard to see how his Safwan-ness has become the insightful human being and innovative player he is today.

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You are a big proponent of players becoming part of the financial process in the music business. Why did you choose to become financially enlightened when you really could have handed over most money matters to someone else?

In the early years of our career we did hand over most of the money matters to someone else, our management. We were relatively young and totally inexperienced, so it made sense. Fortunately for us, our manager did a good job of keeping us informed of the band's day-to-day financial affairs. Back then we were focused on touring and press, so we had little time or inclination to study the money decisions. As our schedule relaxed, we started to invest more energy into the business component of the band. Our chief motivation was the realization that at the end of the day Wide Mouth Mason, the business, was what sustained our ability to keep making music. As such, it was apparent that we needed to make sure it ran as efficiently as possible.  We also figured that we were in the best position to look out for our own interests as a band (i.e. others, no matter how well intentioned, also have their own agendas to serve and those agendas don't always line up with what's best for the band).

Now that you are able to look back on a rise to fame, some pretty cool gigs, an impressive number of units sold and the ability to maintain a successful band, what would you say have been some of your biggest personal lessons over the last 12 years?

I suppose the first thing that pops to mind is the understanding that music for business is not the same thing as music for art. The more business minded the creative process is the less artistic it is. The lesson: One should be cognizant of his/her goals and foster realistic expectations (i.e. to make great music, or to achieve gargantuan sales numbers. It's not impossible, but really difficult to do both). The industry is constantly changing, as is the content it tries to push on its consumers. In such an atmosphere, if an act can make it past 3 years, it has done well. The lesson: It's important for one's sanity not to get too caught up in the climate of the industry.

Wide Mouth Mason has been compared to The Police and The Experience by the media in the past. How would you compare your group to other trios past and present?

Those comparisons are incredibly flattering. I suppose we are influenced by trios (and duos, quartets, and orchestras for that matter) like the aforementioned. Early in our careers Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble were big influences as well. There's certain elements all trios have to be mindful of. For example understanding spacing (not just physical but musical as well) is important. A good trio usually requires strong and distinct tones for each instrument. I seemed to have veered off of the question. I guess what I'm trying to say is there are some elements we share with all trios, and some that make us unique. As far as who we remind me of, I'm hard pressed to come up with an answer.

Going back to Saskatoon´╗┐ and pre-fame gigs for a minute. How did Wide Mouth Mason pay their dues?

WMM was a cover band that played in small town bars across Western Canada. With two racialized members of the band, the dues being paid ended up being slightly more harrowing at times. We did that circuit and the blues bar circuit (also in Western Canada) for two or three years.

Your band has become known as a vocal/instrumental tour de force. As a trio, that cannot be a completely easy task. Why was the decision made to go out into the industry as a three piece?

We didn't consciously think about whether or not we should be a three piece. We just were.

Your version of "Superstition" has a very definite Wide Mouth Mason swing to it. How difficult is it to use cover songs on an album without sounding too close or too divergent to the original?

It probably depends on the song and what your goals are in covering it. If you want a smash hit, then I don't know what to do. If you want an interesting cover on your record, then run with it; make it as divergent as you want. If I were recording a cover, I'd aim for a middle ground approach. Make sure the song is still recognizable but also make it your own.

You hold a Bachelor's degree in Religious Studies. What made you decide to travel that path in university?

I stumbled upon some -isms, namely, existentialism, nihilism, narcoticism, and Buddhism. I decided that I would pursue interest rather than career.

Any plans to apply your university degree in the future?

I apply the subject matter all the time, in that it shapes my gaze upon the world and myself. On a more practical note, I am able to pursue further university education in certain areas because of that piece of paper.

What do you practice on the kit and on vocals?

Vocally, I like to practice by berating and chastising others. As for drumming, I find rudiments are still the best form of practice.

What type of band could you see yourself fronting as a lead singer? Any chance you may travel that path in your career?

Maybe the second coming of Rage Against the Machine. Either that or I'll take Beyonce's place when Destiny's Child do the comeback. As for whether there's a chance of that happening, anything is possible.

What is your process when you are creating drum parts for a track?

Usually our songs are born through a process of jamming as a band. The drum parts seem to develop intuitively sometimes as a starting point for the others to add to, or sometimes as add-ons to what the others are doing. If drums aren't present, I'll just play the part I'm imagining on whatever's near—tables, legs, etc. Ultimately, when we're in studio I'll get opinions from everyone involved in the recording process and sometimes track a few different versions.

What do you look for in a producer when you are ready to go into the studio?

Someone who is likely to get what WMM is about and can facilitate a good recording experience.

You endorse Epek drums, a newer small fish in a very large pond. Are you still with them and why did you choose a small company over some of the larger companies?

I think Epek drums are quite unique and fun to play. I also like the idea of endorsing local/domestic companies over the multinationals (I figure they have enough going for them already). My deal is not exclusive, so I use other drums too (such as Canwood). Both Epek and Canwood have been extremely generous to me.

You were born in P.E.I, lived in Pakistan for a few years, returned to the Maritimes and then relocated to the Canadian prairies. Culturally and musically these are very diverse areas of the world. How do you feel those experiences have shaped you as a musician?

I'm not sure if I can give you tangible outcomes, but I'll tell you what I think. The creative process, at least in my case, doesn't rely on a specific methodology, nor is it completely conscious. Creativity, to some extent, has to tap into your sub-conscious reservoir, and that reservoir is filled with all that you've experienced in life. On the surface, some of our songs have south Asian instrumentation, but I think that's a very superficial impact. I think having been in environments of extreme poverty, divergent ideologies, etc. has to inform your thoughts and that ends up colouring the input and output of your creative well.

When did you begin to feel that you were going to be a career musician?

During my last year of undergraduate studies, I started thinking it might be possible.

How important has family support been since you played your first rudiment?

I've never had to worry about having food, shelter, or clothing, so my basics were covered. Further, I've been afforded the freedom to make decisions in life without fear of reprimand or failure because of the knowledge that my family would support me. Not to mention, the years of having to listen to me practicing in their basement. Despite some challenges in convinces my parents that further university degrees could wait while I pursued a music career, my parents have been incredibly positive.

If you could take a year off from music, what do you feel you would pursue?

Actually, I'm in the midst of a law degree. I try to play with the band as much as possible, but when I can't a close friend of mine fills in for me.

What is in store for Safwan in the near future?

We'll be recording new material in the summer of 2007, and touring as much as possible.

Visit Safwan online: http://safwanjaved.com/




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About the Author
Sean Mitchell

Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.



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